5 Fantasy Books On My TBR

I don’t review fantasy books often, but I do read and enjoy them (see my reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [2004] and The Night Circus [2011]). I love fantasy novels that are well-written, characterised and that take me to magical places. Below I am sharing five fantasy books that are currently on my TBR list and that I am excited to read in the near future.

I. The Gray House [2009] by Mariam Petrosyan

Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt…Nothing short of life-changing.” The Guardian

The Gray House is an Armenian author’s debut which she published in Russia in 2009 to a critical and popular acclaim. Translated from the Russian by Yuri Machkasov, this book has been described as a magical realist saga about disabled students who live in the House under the direction of the Outsiders. With references to Russian folklore (a house that is alive) and popular Soviet literature, the tale takes a sinister turn when students deaths pile up and the leaders of the House struggle to maintain their control and power.

Continue reading “5 Fantasy Books On My TBR”

“Mirror Image”: 7 Books That Focus on Doppelgängers/Doubles

To complement my previous post that was about books featuring identical twins, I am presenting this list of 7 books that feature doppelgängers and look-alike people. Doppelgängers or doubles sometimes appeared in folklore and paranormal stories and, famously, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer, saw his identical self on horseback. The way literature deals with this phenomenon is also curious, giving rise to very thought-provoking and interesting psychological situations, with characters or narrators sometimes questioning their own identity. In that vein, short stories by Edgar Alan Poe (William Wilson [1839]), Henry James (The Jolly Corner [1908]) and by Guy de Maupassant (La Horla [1887]) all focused on this theme, and this situation involving the meeting of two look-alike people also appeared in such novels as Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities [1859] and in Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat [1957].

white castle pamukI. The White Castle [1984] by Orhan Pamuk

In this book, Turkish author and Nobel Prize Laureate Orhan Pamuk introduces a young Italian scholar who becomes a prisoner in the Ottoman Empire. He meets Hoja (the master) and it soon becomes apparent that both men are virtually identical to each other in appearance. Fiercely intelligent, uncanny and mythical, The White Castle may a short novel, but it astutely portrays a curious situation whereby the two men grapple with each other, each other’s identities, each other’s knowledge and with their respective countries’ histories and cultures. Continue reading ““Mirror Image”: 7 Books That Focus on Doppelgängers/Doubles”

“Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins

Maybe because I have a twin brother myself I have always been fascinated by twins and especially how they are presented in literature. Some narratives focus on the differences between identical twins (one “evil” and another “good”) or on the infernal competition between them, while others are more realistic and emphasise brotherly love or the pain of separation. A pair of twins has always represented something mysterious, poorly understood, and even eerie and unsettling. The level of this close emotional bond between identical twins can hardly be comprehended for someone born without a twin. What is it really like growing up with another human being beside you who looks exactly like you? Below, in no particular order, are 7 fiction books that focus on identical twins or on the consequences of having an identical twin in one’ s life: 

the separation book coverI. The Separation [2002] by Christopher Priest 

This book is the book about identical twins since every imaginable and unimaginable scenario involving them is explored, including mistaken identity and a battle for one girl. At the centre here are two brothers who find themselves on the eve of the WWII – one becomes a RAF pilot and another is a conscientious objector. Their destinies play out in a curious manner, and Priest employs sci-fi elements and the alternative history trope to make the story more intriguing.  Continue reading ““Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins”

10 Fiction Books Featuring Food

If there is one sure thing about food, it is that it is never just food [in books]. Like the post-structuralist text, food is endlessly interpretable, as gift, threat, poison, recompense, barter, seduction, solidarity, suffocation” (Terry Eagleton). Below is the list of 10 fiction books that include food as part of their narrative/descriptions or revolve around food/its preparation. Food can play different roles in a book, such as emphasise the character’s belonging to a particular culture or simply be there to stress the coming of people together, such as at a dinner table, where they can form or cement their relationships.

Sweet-Bean-Paste-coverI. Sweet Bean Paste [2013] by Durian Sukegawa

Food/its preparation is everywhere in this heart-warming novel by Japanese author Durian Sukegawa. In this case, it is delicious home-made dorayaki (Japanese red-bean pancakes), which the main character decides to cook at his street stall and employs an elderly woman with a secret to help him. Both subtle and powerful, this short novel stresses the love for good food, as well as the importance of friendship and the fight against societal discrimination. 

chocolat novelII. Chocolat [1999] by Joanne Harris 

This book is about Vianne Rocher, a single mother who arrives to one provincial French town and opens there a chocolaterie. The novel explores such themes as the mother-daughter relationship, discrimination and  hypocrisy, and all in the background of sumptuous chocolate and chocolate-making descriptions. The film of 2000 with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench is a perfect companion to this book.  Continue reading “10 Fiction Books Featuring Food”

My 5 Most Anticipated Books of 2020

First, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to all my followers and may the New Year bring happiness and only the best to you and your families! Here is the list of my 5 most anticipated books of 2020. I wanted to draw attention to a diverse range of books, so I am presenting a literary thriller, a fantasy, a family saga, a contemporary novel and a non-fiction book.  

I. The Truants by Kate Weinberg (Release Date: 28 January 2020)the truants books

This book is supposed to have similarities with both Agatha Christie and Donna Tartt’s works, so it immediately shot to my list of anticipated books. I first spotted The Truants on Rachel’s site Pace, Amore, Libri, and this debut thriller is “set in an English [sic] university, [following] a group of friends as they become entangled under the influence of a mesmerizing professor” (Goodreads). The description hints at Tartt’s The Secret History, and I hope there will be more instances of originality in the book and maybe something unexpected even. I do not really want to see a second If We Were Villains [2017], which, in my opinion, strayed too closely to Tartt’s novel. Maybe that is what I will get, but the mention of Agatha Christie keeps me hopeful. 

piranesi clarkeII. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Release Date: 15 September 2020)

Words cannot describe my excitement for this book. I am a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [2004], which I recommend to everyone, and Piranesi is a novel coming after the 15 years’ wait. I think it is unrelated to Jonathan Strange’s story and the summary is as following: “Piranesi has always lived in the House. It has hundreds if not thousands of rooms and corridors, imprisoning an ocean. A watery labyrinth. Once in a while he sees his friend, The Other, who needs Piranesi for his scientific research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi records his findings in his journal. Then messages begin to appear; all is not what it seems. A terrible truth unravels as evidence emerges of another person and perhaps even another world outside the House’s walls” (Bloomsbury).  Continue reading “My 5 Most Anticipated Books of 2020”

My 10 Favourite Graphic Novels/Comic Books

I do not read many graphic novels/comic books, but, once in awhile, I love reading thought-provoking or emotional graphic novels that introduce me to another culture, way of seeing the world, an interesting central character or to a mystery to consider and possibly solve. Below are ten comic books that I enjoyed reading in recent years (they are in no particular order).

Daytripper Comics CoverI. Daytripper [2010/2011] by Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon

The creators of this graphic novel are twin brothers from Brazil who were ambitious enough to make their graphic novel about life and what it means to live, hope, love and have no regrets in life. The opposite of this is to despair and not be brave enough to follow one’s dreams. The creators’ slightly transcendental journey centres on one obituary writer in Sao Paulo who learns his life lessons by experiencing his life in reverse or sometimes jumping through his life events. Emotional, with deep and important messages, Daytripper is a very memorable book that stays with you.

V for VendettaII. V for Vendetta [1982 – 1989] by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

I am not indifferent to the vision of Alan Moore, a British comic writer. His graphic novels are often very insightful and thought-provoking, grappling with interesting issues (such as personal revenge and redemption), and introducing intricate, often misunderstood and complex characters. They also provide for great film adaptations. V for Vendetta may now be better known as the 2005 film, but, in my opinion, the graphic novel has a subtler and more realistic vision, as well as more coherent picture in place, as it introduces a dystopian setting that can rival Orwell’s 1984 and – V, a mysterious character whose extreme methods at doing away with the unfair regime would push our sympathies for him and his cause to the very limit.  Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Graphic Novels/Comic Books”

7 Fascinating Books on Human Mind & Mental Illness

Since it is Non-Fiction November, I thought I would make a list of non-fiction book recommendations on some of my favourite subjects to explore – the human mind, mental illness and psychiatry. Even though some of the books below border academic and are dated, they still reman very insightful. Some of them were also initially seminal works that opened a new way of thinking about the topic. This list is in no particular order.

Goffman AsylumsI. Asylums [1961] by Erving Goffman 

Erving Goffman (1922 – 1982) is considered to be “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”. His work Asylums is a compelling study on mental institutions, in particular, which he terms “total institutions” since, in his view, they insist on certain patterns of behaviour making people inside to conform to certain roles, such as “guards” or “captors”. This is a thought-provoking book which gave way to the whole new theory behind the confinement of mentally ill. 

History of Melancholy BookII. History of Melancholy [2009/2011] by Karin Johannisson 

History of Melancholy talks about melancholic feelings throughout history – how people viewed melancholy and what forms it took through the ages. It has always been my favourite book on the subject, because it dips into history, literature, psychology and modern psychiatry. It also talks about fugue states, amnesia, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue, emphasising how people were diagnosed with that or this illness depending which one of them was also “in vogue” at that time. I read this book translated (from Swedish) to Russian, and I am not sure whether it is available in the English translation.  Continue reading “7 Fascinating Books on Human Mind & Mental Illness”

Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked

I think it is the perfect time in the year to get cosy in a warm place with one’s preferred hot beverage and read a novel by Ira Levin (1929-2007), an American master of psychological suspense, who was capable of expertly evoking the horror out of the mundane and everyday situations, providing thrills and surprises no one expects. I have always been a fan of his books, which also translate marvellously onto the screen (for example, see Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby [1968] or Forbes’ film The Stepford Wives [1975]). Below are Levin’s novels in the order of my enjoyment of them (meaning that the ranking is not based on any objective criteria, but on my own perception of their merit).

Rosemary's Baby Book CoverI. Rosemary’s Baby [1967]

This is my favourite novel of Ira Levin. It is masterfully suspenseful and completely immersive. In this story, Rosemary Woodhouse is a happily married woman living in New York City with her husband Guy, who is an aspiring actor. Upon moving into a prestigious apartment block Bramford, the couple makes friends with their neighbours next door Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple. Soon after, Rosemary notices strange, overly-friendly behaviour of their neighbours, and Guy’s demeanour also changes. When Rosemary’s becomes pregnant with her first child, her suspicions escalate also because of her very unusual pregnancy; but are her suspicions simply the result of her active imagination or stem from some fact she simply finds hard to accept?  Continue reading “Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked”

5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance

I love reading science-fiction – reading these books is like entering an exciting parallel universe where your imagination fires up (for example, see this list of My 10 Favourite Science-Fiction/Dystopian Books or my reviews of the work of Philip K. Dick –  A Scanner Darkly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch & A Maze of Death). However, for some reason, when I started reading (read) the sci-fi books below I either did not get far or did not particularly like them after I finished them. I realise that some of the books below are very popular and beloved by many and, therefore, I want to give them a second chance – either to re-read them or pick up where I left off and finish them.

Station Eleven Book Cover

I. Station Eleven [2014] by Emily St. John Mandel 

Station Eleven is a very popular dystopian book, but I did not progress far in it. The book’s beginning did not pull me in (and only made me want to re-watch Soderbergh’s film Contagion [2011]). However, I realise it has much to offer, and I want to start it again. The synopsis to this book reads that it is “set in the days of civilisation’s collapse“…and “tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors“. The beginning is about the death of a Hollywood actor on stage, after which the story moves “back and forth in time“, becoming “a suspenseful, elegiac and spellbinding novel” (Goodreads).

Emily St. John Mandel has another novel coming in 2020 titled The Glass Hotel, and I am looking forward to reading it. The Glass Hotel is described as “a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York…” (Goodreads).  Continue reading “5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance”

10 Great Debut Novels

On this blog, I reviewed some debut books which I loved (such as When Rain Clouds Gather, Moth Smoke, The People in the Trees and The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau) and which I hated/disliked (such as The Miniaturist, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Idaho and A Pale View of Hills), and this got me thinking about debut novels – what are the chances of writing/publishing one’s first novel and it becoming a straight “literary masterpiece”? Apparently for the authors below exactly that happened. For the purposes of this list, a debut book is the first published (not written) novel of an author (excluding poems, plays, non-fiction and short stories). This list of 10 great debut novels is in no particular order:

The God of Small Things CoverI. The God of Small Things [1997] by Arundhati Roy

It is hard to believe that this Booker Prize-winning novel is a debut of Arundhati Roy, but it is true. This book changed my perception of literature and what it can do. The tale of a pair of twins growing up in India in the late 1960s is a powerful and exceptionally beautifully account. Roy’s language is inventive as she explores in this book such themes as hope, love, loss and despair. A modern classic.  Continue reading “10 Great Debut Novels”

My 10 Favourite Agatha Christie Novels

I started reading Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was very young, and my passion for crime mysteries stems largely from my early literary acquaintance with the Queen of Crime. I believe that when you read Christie’s crime mysteries, you also pretty much read the best and certainly most influential murder/detective mysteries there are (apart from probably those of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe), and others either influenced Christie herself, see The Mystery of the Yellow Room [1907], or are twisted imitations, see The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle [2018]. Below are my ten favourite books from Agatha Christie (as you can see I prefer Hercule Poirot mysteries over those of Miss Marple, and also enjoy “exotic location” mysteries).   

And Then There Were None Book CoverI. And Then There Were None [1939]

Obviously, And Then There Were None leads my list since this is Christie’s detective masterpiece. In it, eight people arrive to an isolated island invited for different reasons (some with job prospects in mind). They do not find their host on the island, and, it turned out that the cause of their arrival is more sinister as one by one they die from unnatural causes, with their deaths eerily in line with one nursery rhyme. Full of twists, with one big unbelievable reveal towards the end, this book is Christie at her best, and the cleverness and originality of the plot design is still unsurpassed, even though widely imitated. 
Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Agatha Christie Novels”

My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books

1984 CoverI. 1984 [1949] by George Orwell 

Orwell’s 1984 will forever remain the dystopian novel to read. In the story, we meet Winston Smith who rewrites historical records for the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One (formerly the UK), one of the future totalitarian states. The future world of surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing that the author imagines is a powerful reminder of the importance to stick to the truth and freedom of thought anywhere in the real world. Moreover, the novel has a particular relevance to modern times because there is a global concern now about data protection, fake news and privacy when browsing online.  

Brave New World CoverII. Brave New World [1932] by Aldous Huxley

Huxley presents an unforgettable world and vision in his novel. The year is circa 2540, and the humanity made unbelievable advances in genetics, sexual reproduction and sleep-learning. Presented as utopia, the world is actually a well-ordered totalitarian state where there are certain classes of people who should know their societal positions, and where happiness is achieved through a particular drug. The novel is as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable.  Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books”

10 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books

In Praise of ShadowsI. In Praise of Shadows [1933] by Junichiro Tanizaki  

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki first wrote his essay In Praise of Shadows in 1933, demonstrating how the Japanese penchant for darkness and imperfection not only has a right to be, but should be appreciated since its eerie beauty can be distilled. From the charm of lacquerware illuminated by candles to toilet meditation, Tanizaki touches on many aspects of the Japanese society slowly vanishing to make his point that there is a certain delight to be found for those not afraid to crouch in darkness and for those who are open to experience the imperfect.    

QuietII. Quiet [2012] by Susan Cain  

Susan Cain’s Quiet is revolutionary in some profound way, and for the first time ever introverts can feel good about being themselves. In her book, Cain not only dispels some of the myths about introversion, such as that introverts are shy, but also points out that introversion and leadership are not antonyms, and, in fact, introverts can take better decision because of the time and research they put in beforehand. This is just one of the chapters in this amazing book designed to free introverts from their mental prisons, enabling them to take their rightful place in the world “that does not stop talking”.  Continue reading “10 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books”

10 Great Novels set in New York, NY

The Bonfire of the VanitiesI. The Bonfire of the Vanities [1987] by Tom Wolfe 

Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed novel is set in New York as it tells of a high-flying bond trader Sherman McCoy and his eventual fall from the societal ladder when he is involved in a hit-and-run accident alongside his strikingly-beautiful lover Maria. We get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the New York’s privileged, while also mull over the lives of the disadvantaged living in the Bronx and those on the media outlets’ outskirts desperate to make a big story whatever it takes. Though, in terms of plot, it probably takes cues from both The Great Gatsby [1925] and the Spanish film Death of a Cyclist [1955], Wolfe’s novel is still a pure joy to read: witty, bitter-sweet and engrossing. One of the chapters is titled The Masque of the Red Death, so there is plenty of nuance and hidden irony.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's Cover BookII. Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1958] by Truman Capote 

What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets” (2001: 36, Capote). Capote’s novella is short, and both sweet and melancholy in a way. It is about Holly Golightly, a stylish, vivacious young woman, living and enjoying life in Manhattan, not even wanting to think of her past, while men who admire her continue to speculate and probe into her mysteries and the secrets to her success. It is an easy read, but no less fascinating for it.  Continue reading “10 Great Novels set in New York, NY”

10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines

I. Albert Camus – The Stranger [1942]

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” [1984: 9, Camus/translation]. “You could never change your life…[and] that in any case one life was as good as another and…I wasn’t at all dissatisfied with mine here” [1984: 44, Camus/translation]. 

II. José Saramago – The Cave [2000] 

Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognising and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt” [2002: 254, Saramago/translation]. “What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners, They are just like us” [Plato, The Republic, Book VII].  Continue reading “10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines”